Millennia before the emergence of Hellenic civilisation and the power of Rome, the land of Egypt had long been flourishing under the rule of the Pharaohs. With Voyages to Antiquity you will discover the staggering wealth, cultural beliefs and technological expertise of the ancient Egyptians, preserved in their awe-inspiring monuments and intricate artworks. Few places on earth are more intrinsically linked to the ancient world than Egypt. Visit the Pyramids of Giza, location of the only surviving Wonder of the Ancient World, view the splendours of Tutankhamun’s tomb and discover the legacy of Egypt’s Greek and Roman conquerors. For those with a passion for antiquity, visiting Egypt is a truly unmissable experience.
This afternoon you will head to Karnak to visit the great Temple of Amun, the greatest place of worship in history. The magnificent hypostyle hall is a veritable forest of 134 papyrus columns that once supported a massive roof. You can still see the remains of clerestory windows, designed to create the effect of a papyrus swamp. This hall connected the outer court with the inner sanctuary, where only kings and priests were permitted. On special occasions, a statue of Amun would emerge, carried aloft on the shoulders of his priests.
The temple was completed by Ramses II (1290-1224BC), considered by some to be the pharaoh of the Exodus. The site also bears evidence of an even earlier temple, dating back another thousand years. Other highlights include the Avenue of the Sphinxes – creatures combining the body of a lion and the head of a ram. The main road linking the temples at Karnak and Luxor were once lined with these fantastic creatures, each holding a statue of Ramses II between their paws.
In addition, visit the open-air museum to view remains from other areas of Karnak, such as the white chapel of Sanusret I.
Thebes, the city of the god Amon, was the capital of Egypt during the Middle and New Kingdoms. Like Babylon and Ninevah it was considered one of the great cities of antiquity. On the opposite bank of the Nile is located the necropolis known as the Valley of the Kings, the burial place of the New Kingdom pharaohs. These rulers were obsessed with the afterlife, and the magnificence of their tombs and temples has been a source of marvel to tourists since the time of the Greek historian, Herodotus.
Visit three of the royal tombs, including King Tutankhamun's, where one of archaeology's most dramatic discovery tales comes to life. Continue to Deir El Bahari to view the temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the masterwork of Senenmut, the commoner turned royal architect. Dramatically located at the foot of a cliff, the funerary temple befits a queen who once declared herself king, and is considered one of the finest buildings in all Egypt.
You will also see the Colossi of Memnon, a magnificent pair of gigantic (64 feet high) statues of Amenophis III that once graced the entrance to his immense temple. Although these two statues are all that remain of the temple, their vast scale is an indication of its magnitude and size. After an earthquake in 27 BC, the north colossus was said to sing at dawn, but once it was repaired in 199 AD, the sound disappeared.
Northwest of the Nile Delta on the coast of the Mediterranean, Alexandria is the largest port in Egypt and is filled with colourful streets, beautiful architecture and a charming nostalgic aura.
Your tour begins with a scenic drive to Mansheya Square, where a large bronze statue of Mohamed Ali, modern Egypt’s founding father, sits astride his horse, dominating the park. At the other end of the square, near the waterside, is an elegant marble edifice dedicated to the Unknown Soldier, with guards of honour at attention on either side.
A short drive away is one of Alexandria’s most important Islamic landmarks, the beautiful minarets and domes of the Abu El Abbas Mosque, which contains the tomb of the 13th century Spanish Sufi, Abu al-Abbas, one of Egypt’s most revered saints.
Continuing along the harbour, the 15th century Qait Bey Fortress was built on the exact site of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Estimated to have been 100 metres tall, an earthquake in the 14th century led to the lighthouse’s total destruction, making it one of the greatest architectural losses in antiquity.
You will then visit the eerie and intriguing Catacombs of Shawqafa, an extensive three level funerary complex dating from the 2nd century AD; followed by the National Museum of Alexandria, which is filled with exhibits detailing the history of the city and Egypt. Of particular note are the underwater photographs and statues recovered from an ongoing operation to salvage the Palace of Cleopatra, which was submerged beneath the harbour of Alexandria during the same tsunami that destroyed the Lighthouse.
Your return to Aegean Odyssey will then follow the corniche, for more panoramic views from the water’s edge, including a short photo stop at the new Library of Alexandria.
At its peak, Memphis must have staggered the out-of-town visitor. Egypt's first capital is situated at the apex of the Nile delta. For thousands of years this huge, cosmopolitan city was the capital of the Old Kingdom (2650-2134BC).
Arriving at Memphis, visit the remains of the temple of Ptah, the god of Memphis and mythical creator of the universe. See such breathtaking sights as the huge fallen statue of King Ramses II and the Alabaster Sphinx of King Amenhopis II. Continue a short drive from Memphis to Sakkara, a favorite necropolis of Old Kingdom pharaohs. View one of mankind's first monumental stone buildings, the Step Pyramid of King Zoser, built in 2750BC by the engineer Imhotep, a polymath who could arguably lay claim to being the world's first architect, first doctor, first priest, first poet, first dentist and first astrologer.
After visiting the complex, continue to one of the nearby mastabas (funerary chambers) such as Ptah-Hotep or Mereruca. These give important insights into the architectural origins of the pyramid and contain beautiful reliefs with depictions of daily life in ancient Egypt.
From your hotel, drive to the banks of the River Nile where a luxurious cruise boat awaits to sail you on the same timeless waterway traversed by pharaohs, queens and nobles thousands of years ago. Sit back, relax and enjoy a sumptuous dinner in elaborate interiors as you glide past Cairo’s waterfront landmarks. For your entertainment, a folkloric presentation and belly dancing will take place during meal.
Imagine the feelings of British archaeologist Howard Carter on November 5 1922, the date he descended the hidden steps of King Tutankhamun’s tomb and first set eyes on its fabulous golden treasures. On this visit to the National Archaeological Museum of Egypt you will come as close as possible to recreating this magical moment as you discover the magnificent artefacts unearthed by the archaeologist, as well as many other pharaonic artworks spanning a period of over 50 centuries, which constitute the largest and richest collection of Egyptian antiquities in the world.
Stepping from modern urban streets into a timeless world of golden burial masks, papyrus scrolls and artefacts representing every period of Egyptian history, the museum's crowning glory is of course its priceless collection from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Born during Egypt's Golden Age in 1347BC and only a teenager when he died, Tutankhamun was buried in the Valley of the Kings and lay undisturbed for over 3,000 years, until Howard Carter, derided by his colleagues and on the brink of losing his funding, unearthed his tomb and its fabulous treasures, including a royal diadem, weapons used by the young king, a viscera coffin for Tutankhamun’s mummified liver, and a mask of solid gold weighing over 24 pounds, shaped in the image of the pharaoh's face.
Stand in awe before the Pyramids at Giza, the only survivor of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Drive to the Giza Plateau and the pyramids built for the pharaohs of the fourth dynasty: Cheops, Chefren and Mycerinos. From the Western Plateau, take in majestic views of all three pyramids with Cairo sprawling at their feet. The pyramid of Cheops alone required tens of thousands of workers over two decades. While it was once held that the workers who created this site were slaves, it is now thought they toiled for wages or to pay off taxes. Continue down the valley to contemplate the Sphinx, watching the passage of time and man in silence.
This colossal limestone monument with the haunches of a lion and the face of a king is held to represent the guardian deity of these royal burial grounds. So great were the Sphinx's mythical powers that 15th-century Egyptians thought it controlled the flood cycles of the Nile.
Note: This visit is to the exterior of the pyramids only. If you wish to go inside, there is an additional charge, but this is not recommended for those with claustrophobia or with breathing, knee or back problems. Photography is not allowed inside the pyramids.
Anthony the Great, the Father of All Monks, was born in 251AD to a wealthy family in Lower Egypt, but after answering the call of God he gave away all his worldly possessions and lived an ascetic life in the wilderness. Following his death in 356AD, his followers founded a Coptic monastery in his name at the foot of Al-Qalzam Mountain, not far from the tiny cave where Anthony had lived.
Your guides for the day will be the monks themselves, making for a truly fascinating insight into the daily life of what is the oldest still active monastery in the world. Dotted around this self-contained little village are a mill and bakery, as well as four churches, the oldest of which has some exceptional wall paintings of the Holy Knights. Also on the site is a library containing the largest collection of Coptic manuscripts in Egypt, totalling nearly two thousand volumes.
St. Paul’s Monastery is another Coptic Christian retreat that relies on mountain spring water for its supply and still observes rituals that have barely changed for sixteen centuries. Founded in memory of Paul the Anchorite, one of Egypt’s greatest saints, it has a close association with St. Anthony’s as one of the other oldest monasteries in the country, dating from the 5th-century AD.
The site has three churches, one of which is underground in the cave where St. Paul is said to have lived for eighty years. During the Middle Ages it suffered repeated attacks by Bedouin tribes, which is why, until recently, the only way in was via a pulley and winch system.
In the evening, attend a Sound & Light show at the Valley of the Kings. Here, under a star-studded sky, the magnificent history and achievements of the ancient Egyptians come to life as the illuminated monuments dominate the surrounding darkness.